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Renewable energy in the United Kingdom


Renewable energy in the United Kingdom

Installed capacity (MW) of renewable energy sources in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2012[1]
Electricity generated (GWh) from renewable sources in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2012[1]

Renewable energy can be divided into generation of renewable electricity and the generation of renewable heat.

From the mid-1990s renewable energy began to contribute to the electricity generated in the United Kingdom, adding to a small hydroelectricity generating capacity. The total of all renewable electricity sources provided for 11.3% of the electricity generated in the United Kingdom in 2012,[1] reaching 41.3 TWh of electricity generated. Renewable energy contributions to meeting the UK's 15% target reduction in energy consumption by 2020, in accordance with the 2009 EU Renewable Directive, was 3.94% in 2012 as measured in accordance with the methodology set out in the Directive.[1]

Interest in renewable energy in the UK has increased in recent years due to new UK and EU targets for reductions in carbon emissions and the promotion of renewable electricity power generation through commercial incentives such as the Renewable Obligation Certificate scheme (ROCs) and Feed in tariffs (FITs) and the promotion of renewable heat through the Renewable Heat Incentive. Historically hydroelectric schemes were the largest producers of renewable electricity in the UK, but these have now been surpassed by wind power schemes, for which the UK has large potential resources.


  • Economics 1
  • Wind 2
  • Ocean power 3
  • Biofuels 4
  • Solar 5
  • Hydroelectric 6
  • Geothermal power 7
  • Microgeneration 8
  • Community energy systems 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Estimated levelised costs (pence/kWh) of low-carbon electricity generation technologies[2]
Technology 2011 estimate 2040 central projection
River hydro (best locations) 6.9 5
Onshore wind 8.3 5.5
Nuclear 9.6 6
CCGT with carbon capture 10.0 10
Wood CFBC 10.3 7.5
Geothermal 15.9 9
Offshore wind 16.9 8.5
Energy crops 17.1 11
Tidal stream 29.3 13
Solar PV 34.3 8
Tidal barrage 51.8 22


UK installed wind power capacity 1990–2013

By mid-2013, the installed capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was over 10GW gigawatts[3] and the UK is ranked as the world’s eighth largest producer of wind power. Wind power is expected to continue growing in the UK for the foreseeable future, RenewableUK estimates that more than 2 GW of capacity will be deployed per year for the next five years.[4] Within the UK, wind power is the second largest source of renewable energy after biomass.[1]

2010 saw the completion of some significant projects in the UK wind industry with the Gunfleet Sands, Robin Rigg[5] and Thanet[6] offshore wind farms coming on stream. Over 1.1 GW of new wind power capacity was brought online during 2010, a 3% increase on 2009. There was a 38% drop in onshore installations to 503 MW compared with 815 MW in 2009 but there was a 230% increase in offshore installations with 653 MW installed (compared with 285 MW in 2009).

Ocean power

PB150 PowerBuoy with peak-rated power output of 150 kW.
The Islay limpet wave power device

Due to the island location of the UK, the country has great potential for generating electricity from wave power and tidal power.

To date, wave and tidal power have received very little money for development and consequently have not yet been exploited on a significant commercial basis due to doubts over their economic viability in the UK.[7] Funding for the UK's first wave farm was announced by then Scottish Executive in February 2007. It will be the world's largest, with a capacity of 3 MW generated by four Pelamis machines and a cost of over 4 million pounds.[8] In the south of Scotland,investigations have taken place into a Tidal Power scheme involving the construction of a Solway Barage, possibly located south of Annan.

To date, 2012, a Wave farm project to harness Wave power, using the PB150 PowerBuoy has been completed by Ocean Power Technologies in Scotland and is under development off Cornwall at Wave Hub.


Gas from sewage and landfill (biogas) has already been exploited in some areas. In 2004 it provided 129.3 GW·h (up 690% from 1990 levels), and was the UK's leading renewable energy source, representing 39.4% of all renewable energy produced (including hydro).[9] The UK has committed to a target of 10.3% of renewable energy in transport to comply with the Renewable Energy Directive of the European Union but has not yet implemented legislation to meet this target.

Other biofuels can provide a close-to-carbon-neutral energy source, if locally grown. In South America and Asia, the production of biofuels for export has in some cases resulted in significant ecological damage, including the clearing of rainforest. In 2004 biofuels provided 105.9 GW·h, 38% of it wood. This represented an increase of 500% from 1990.[10]


Solar panels on the BedZED development in the London Borough of Sutton

At the end of 2011, there were 230,000 solar power projects in the United Kingdom,[11] with a total installed generating capacity of 750 megawatts (MW).[12] By February 2012 the installed capacity had reached 1,000 MW.[13] Solar power use has increased very rapidly in recent years, albeit from a small base, as a result of reductions in the cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels, and the introduction of a Feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidy in April 2010.[11] In 2012, the government said that 4 million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years,[14] representing 22,000 MW of installed solar power capacity by 2020.[11]


The Dinorwig Power Station lower reservoir, a 1,800 MW pumped-storage hydroelectric scheme, in north Wales, and the largest hydroelectric power station in the UK

As of 2012, hydroelectric power stations in the United Kingdom accounted for 1.67 GW of installed electrical generating capacity, being 1.9% of the UK's total generating capacity and 14% of UK's renewable energy generating capacity. Annual electricity production from such schemes is approximately 5,700 GWh, being about 1.5% of the UK's total electricity production.[15]

There are also pumped-storage power stations in the UK. These power stations are net consumers of electrical energy however they contribute to balancing the grid, which can facilitate renewable generation elsewhere, for example by 'soaking up' surplus renewable output at off-peak times and release the energy when it is required.

Geothermal power

Investigations into the exploitation of Geothermal power in the United Kingdom, prompted by the 1973 oil crisis, were abandoned as fuel prices fell. Only one scheme is operational, in Southampton. In 2004 it was announced that a further scheme would be built to heat the UK's first geothermal energy model village near Eastgate, County Durham.[16]


Microgeneration technologies are seen as having considerable potential by the Government. However, the microgeneration strategy launched in March 2006[17] was seen as a disappointment by many commentators.[18] Microgeneration involves the local production of electricity by homes and businesses from low-energy sources including small scale wind turbines, and solar electricity installations. The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006[19] is expected to boost the number of microgeneration installations,[20] however, funding for grants under the Low Carbon Building Programme is proving insufficient to meet demand[21] with funds for March 2007 being spent in 75 minutes.[22] FiTs (Feed-in-Tariffs, aka "Clean Energy Cashback") were introduced from 1 April 2010 to support microgeneration of electricity. The Renewable Heat Incentive was introduced from 28 November 2011 to support microgeneration of heat from ground source heat pumps, solar thermal panels and biomass boilers, but only for non-domestic dwellings. The Government has plans to extend the RHI to domestic dwellings in 2013. The delay of introducing the RHI for renewable heat long after the subsidy for renewable electricity was introduced has dealt a savage blow to the renewable heat industries.

Community energy systems

Sustainable community energy systems, pioneered by Woking Borough Council, provide an integrated approach to using cogeneration, renewables and other technologies to provide sustainable energy supplies to an urban community. It is expected that the same approach will be developed in other towns and cities, including London.[23] Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company based in Inverness are active in developing community-owned and led initiatives in Scotland.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Department of Energy and Climate Change: Annual tables: ‘Digest of UK energy statistics’ (DUKES) - Chapter 6: Renewable Sources of energy". Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Renewable UK statistical overview of wind farms today
  4. ^ RenewableUK 23 September 2010 Press Release
  5. ^ NewEnergyFocus wind news webpage
  6. ^ news article
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Orkney to get 'biggest' wave farm". BBC News. 2007-02-20. 
  9. ^ DTI figures
  10. ^ (DTI figures)
  11. ^ a b c Yeganeh Torbati (Feb 9, 2012). "UK wants sustained cuts to solar panel tariffs". Reuters. 
  12. ^ European Photovoltaic Industry Association (2012). "Market Report 2011". 
  13. ^ Jonathan Gifford (23 February 2012). "UK hits one GW of PV capacity". PV Magazine. 
  14. ^ Fiona Harvey (9 February 2012). "Greg Barker: 4m homes will be solar-powered by 2020". 
  15. ^ "Department of Energy and Climate Change: UK use of Hydroelectricity". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  16. ^ 'Hot rocks' found at cement plant
  17. ^ Our energy challenge: power from the people. Microgeneration strategy - BERR
  18. ^ "'"Home power plan 'disappointment. BBC News. 2006-03-29. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  19. ^ Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 (c. 19)
  20. ^ "Power from the people". BBC News. 2006-03-09. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  21. ^ Renewable Energy Association - News Article
  22. ^ Elliott, Larry (2007-03-02). "Green energy industry attacks government rationing of grants". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  23. ^ Muir, Hugh (2005-06-29). "Wake-up call from Woking". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  24. ^

External links

  • Sustainable Energy at DEFRA
  • The UK Renewable Energy Strategy (official government policy)
  • Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22) on renewable energy
  • UK Renewables Policy.
  • Small-scale Wind Power in the UK
  • Britain's Old Industries See Renewable Boost
  • Britain To Launch Innovative Feed-in Tariff Program in 2010
  • Map of UK renewable power installations
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